YNDC Completes $250K Renovation of Former Monastery

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – When Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. acquired the former Carmelite Monastery last year, leaders weren’t entirely sure what to do with the property near Mill Creek Park.

But now, following a $250,000 renovation, the building is poised to serve as YNDC’s neighborhood action center, along with three apartments on the upper level that will be leased out.

“Given the size of the project, it actually went rather smoothly,” said Tiffany Sokol, YNDC housing director, during a tour of the property Tuesday. “Major renovations started in August, and here we sit in December and it’s done.”    

Last year, YNDC came into possession of the property – where thousands of Mahoning Valley residents for years went on weekends to hear the sermons of Fr. Richard Madden – at the request of the late Cece Bersch, a trustee of the monastery’s estate. 

“The biggest challenge was just to figure out what to do with a building of this size in the neighborhood, and determining what was the highest and best use that would be of most benefit to the neighborhood here,” Sokol said. 

Redeveloping larger, single-family homes “without having an adverse impact on the neighborhood is a real challenge,” she said, largely because family sizes today don’t lend themselves to structures of this size, roughly 7,000 square feet. 

“One of the biggest challenges initially was just determining what do we even do with this beautiful property to really honor the historic use of it and what an asset its been to this community for years,” she continued. 

A fundraising campaign earlier this year brought in about $80,000 for the project, including $30,000 from the Youngstown Foundation, $15,000 from the Walter and Caroline Watson Foundation and $35,000 raised from donors online. 

YNDC will recoup the remaining expenses from the renovation from leases for the three new apartments: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit that will cost $750 per month, and two one-bedroom units that will go for $600 per month each. The apartments were listed during the renovations and renters are already interested. 

The first floor, meanwhile, will be available for community meetings hosted by YNDC as well as local organizations such as neighborhood groups and block watches. The greenspace behind the building – known as “God’s Backyard,” where Madden hosted outdoor services – will provide additional meeting space, said Jack Daugherty, YNDC’s neighborhood stabilization director. 

That will be a familiar role for the property, said Jim London, president of the Idora Neighborhood Association. According to London, the neighborhood’s original block watches held their meetings in the monastery. 

“The monastery for a long time has been part of the community,” he said, adding that he’s confident YNDC’s involvement will sustain the property. While he doesn’t typically support rental properties in Idora Park, YNDC has revitalized several houses that have improved the neighborhood.    

The need for a community space is “pretty great,” Daugherty said. “Here in the neighborhood and in the neighborhoods surrounding here, there just aren’t a lot of good small or outdoor meeting spaces that are available to neighborhood groups without some kind of cost associated with it.”

“The space is actually conducive to holding multiple meetings at a time if we need to,” as well as being able to break people off into small groups, Sokol added

The two are also confident that YNDC’s investment will have benefits beyond the former monastery’s walls. Those benefits include, at minimum, just keeping the building from becoming blighted and vacant, Sokol said. The major investments YNDC has made to increase the building’s value also will increase the values of the neighboring properties, while tenants of the building will in turn invest in the neighborhood.

Daugherty echoed Sokol’s sentiments about taking what otherwise might have become “just another vacant space in the neighborhood” and transforming it into an asset to the community. 

“Not only is it housing people but it also becomes a gathering space where people can work together, organize around issues affecting their neighborhoods,” he said. “All the neighbors I’ve talked to around here are really excited.” 

The new life for the property, Daugherty believes, would please Madden and Bersch. Madden wasn’t just a priest but was also a community organizer and leader, Sokol said. 

“Carrying on the enduring legacy of Father Madden is something that we’re really excited to be a part of,” she said. “We’re very excited to continue that legacy in this space.”    

Pictured: Tiffany Sokol, YNDC’s housing director, says the renovation of the former Carmelite Monastery provides the Idora Park with a new community asset it can use for years.

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